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Thanks For Nothing: Is VA Whistleblower Compensation Worth The Hassle?

Four more employees have received relief after being retaliated against for whistleblowing in Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country, an independent federal agency announced.

The Office of Special Counsel is tasked with investigating whistleblower complaints, and these cases bring the total of resolved claims to 25 over the last year.

However, the relief isn’t much. The only compensation is that employees get to keep their jobs, Stars and Stripes reports. Only in some cases did the VA volunteer back pay. In other examples, the remedy was simpler: the removal of a negative appraisal.

According to the OSC, there are 120 serious complaints left to investigate, with some alleging understaffing and poor patient care.

In one case highlighted by the OSC, Coleen Elmers, a nurse manager who exposed a subordinate who had altered a performance evaluation, was targeted by her supervisor at the VA medical center in Spokane, Wash.

The supervisor subsequently stated that Elmers’ performance was unsatisfactory and recommended termination, also alleging “inappropriate behavior.” The OSC persuaded the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is designed to hear appeals of executive agency action, to block the termination in December 2014 because of the suspicious circumstances and retaliation. The OSC is continuing to investigate this case.

Nursing assistant Mark Tello experienced similar treatment. In August 2013, he complained to his immediate supervisor of a shortage in staff, meaning that patients were in danger of losing care. He was quickly put on a five-day suspension. This was in January 2014. In June, the VA tried to remove him again, but this time the OSC intervened, persuading the VA to place Tello under different management and to award him pay for lost wages.

“Personally, I would add that you should be praised,” VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson stated, noting that much more work needs to be done to protect and honor whistleblowers.

“OSC will continue to work with the VA to obtain relief for VA whistleblowers with meritorious reprisal claims,” said special counsel Carolyn Lerner. “We appreciate the VA leadership’s cooperation with OSC in assisting many VA whistleblowers.”

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